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The Anglican Covenant Proposed by the Lambeth Commission

  • Norman Doe (a1)


The Lambeth Commission (2004) proposed a number of short-term and long-term solutions to issues raised by recent and highly controversial developments in the Episcopal Church (USA) and the diocese of New Westminster (Canada). From these events have emerged important questions about the nature of communion between, and the autonomy of, each of the forty-four member churches of the Anglican Communion, and the way in which decisions of common concern are made. In order to consolidate this communion, as a long-term project, the Commission proposes the adoption of an Anglican Covenant by all forty-four churches of the Communion. This article describes the terms of the proposed Covenant and identifies their provenance, in order to establish that the proposal is for the most part a restatement of classical Anglicanism. Only in serious cases of disagreement which substantially risk the unity of the Communion is the proposal innovative. The article also describes briefly reactions to and possible implementation of the proposed Covenant.



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1 I am deeply indebted to Eutgne D'Auria for her invaluable assistance, to other colleagues at the Centre, particularly Anthony Jeremy, Chancellor Mark Hill, and Dr Augur Pearce, and to Cardiff Law School for its support, during my time on the Lambeth Commission.

2 The paper was subsequently published: Doe, N, ‘Canon law and communion’, (2002) 6 Ecc LJ 241–263, esp 262; (2003) 3 International Journal for the Study of the Christian Church 85117, esp 115.

3 See the report by Rees, John at (2003) 6 Ecc LJ 399.

4 See Doe, N, ‘The Common Law of the Anglican Communion’, (2003) 7 Ecc LJ 4.

5 Statement, Lambeth, 15–16 October 2003. The Network was set up, as the Primates recommended (2002), by the Anglican Consultative Council (Hong Kong, 09 2002) to ‘produce a statement of the principles’.

6 Lambeth Commission, Mandate, 1.

7 The Lambeth Commission on Communion, The Winder Report (hereafter WR) (Anglican Communion Office, London, 2004) Appendix II, Proposal for the Anglican Covenant.

8 WR, para 118, n 61: suggested form of law: ‘The Governing Body of the Church in Wales authorises the Archbishop of Wales to enter on behalf of this church the Anglican Covenant and commits the Church in Wales to comply and act in a manner compatible with the Covenant so entered’.

9 WR, para 118; Proposed Covenant (hereafter PAC), Preamble: ‘We, the churches of the Anglican Communion, in order to foster greater unity and to consolidate our understandings of communion, solemnly establish this Covenant. entered on our behalf by designated signatories and to which we shall adhere as authorised by may be made more visible and committed, and agree as follows…’.

10 Primates' Meeting, Communiqué, 24 February 2005, para 8. See also below as to implementation.

11 See generally Doe, N, Canon Law in the Anglican Communion (Oxford, 1998).

12 That is: the Archbishop of Canterbury, Primates' Meeting, Lambeth Conference and ACC.

13 WR, paras 22–41.

14 WR, para 115: ‘This may be contrasted with the juridical experience of the particular church, in which enforceable canon law, the servant of the church, seeks to facilitate and order communion amongst its faithful’.

15 WR, para 116: ‘This may be contrasted with the increasing bodies of ecumenical law in Anglican churches facilitating communion relations between Anglicans and non-Anglicans’.

16 WR, para 117.

17 See n 8 above.

18 WR, paras 117, 118.

19 WR, para 119.

20 In the ecumenical context, the crisis led to condemnation from the Russian Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches, and a statement from the Roman Catholic Church that the developments had created ‘new and serious difficulties’ in Anglican-Roman Catholic relations.

21 Eg Church in Wales: Canon 28 September 1995 incorporates into the legal system of the church the terms of communion agreed under the Porvoo Declaration rendering these juridical commitments for the church.

22 WR, para 119.

23 The Consultation of Legal Advisers (2002) has identified potential problem areas as to the ‘Applicability of Civil Law standards to the Church’ (eg): clergy and secular employment law; recourse by church members to secular courts; marriage and polygamy; clergy and political activity.

24 WR, para 119.

25 WR, para 120: the idea is for churches to opt in rather than be excluded.

26 WR, para 45.

27 WR, paras 1–11, 49, 51 and 52.

28 WR, para 80.

29 See Doe, N, ‘Communion and autonomy in Anglicanism’: Lambeth Commission

30 PAC, Preamble.

31 Various formulae are used: preceptive, prohibitive, and permissive, in line with the canonical tradition: see eg Doe, N,‘The principles of canon law’, (1999) 5 Ecc LJ 221.

32 Typically eg Growth in Communion: Anglican-Lutheran International Working Group (2000–2002) (Geneva, 2003) para 45: ‘Full communion is understood as a relationship between two distinct churches or communions in which each maintains its own autonomy while recognising the catholicity and apostolicity of the other, and believing the other to hold all the essentials of the Christian faith’.

33 Art 1.1: Lambeth Conference 1930 (hereafter LC), Res 49. The laws of most churches make this claim for themselves: eg Scottish Episcopal Church, Canon 1.1.

34 Art 1.2. See ARCIC, Church as Communion (1990) IV.45: see also LC 1998, Res II. 1(b)(ii).

35 Art 1.3: Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, Art. 6; LC 1888, Res 11; LC 1998, Res III.5.

36 Art 1.4: LC 1888, Res 11; LC 1920, Res 9 (Lambeth Quadrilateral); LC 1998, Res 5.

37 Art 1.4: This is adapted from formulae used in ecumenical agreements: as eg n 32; see, however, LC 1888, Res 11 for the spirit of the formula.

38 World Council of Churches, Report (1983).

39 Art 2.1: LC 1888, Res 11; LC 1920, Res 9.

40 Art 2.2: LC 1998, Res III. 8(f).

41 Art 2.2: LC 1878, Res 1; LC 1908, Res 24, 27; LC 1998, Res II.8(c).

42 Art 3.1: LC 1888, Res 11.

43 Art 3.1: LC 1958, Res 94.

44 Art 3.1: Porvoo Declaration. Also Art 3.2: each church shares a common life of service in the apostolic mission entrusted by Christ, serving in the world his purposes of mission, justice and peace.

45 Art 4.1: Women in the Episcopate, Eames Commission (Toronto, 1998) (hereafter WAEEC) para 36; ARCIC, Church as Communion (1990) IV. 45.

46 Art 4.1: ARCIC, The Church as Communion (1990) IV. 45.

47 Art 4.2: Bonn Agreement (1931).

48 Art 4.3, 4: Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral (1886–8).

49 Art 4.4: LC 1998, Res III.2(c); see also ACC-12, Res 34.3.

50 Art 4.4: see eg Church of England, Canon A8; LC 1998, II.6(c).

51 Art 5: LC 1930, Res 48. Art. 5.1: each member church is autonomous, episcopally led and synodically governed. Art 5 also contains two propositions hitherto unarticulated: Decisions in each church are to be presumed as duly authorised within that church but such decisions do not bind outside that church (Art 5.2). Every church shares the same concern for good government for the fulfilment of its mission and for the common good of the Anglican Communion and the church universal (Art 5.3).

52 Art 6.1. See eg Virginia Report (of the Inter-Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission), The Official Report of the Lambeth Conference 1998 (Harrisburg, 1999) 24ff; WAEEC, 22, 23; LC 1998, Res III.8(d).

53 Art 6.2. See Inter-Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission submission (see WR, n 21).

54 Art 6.3. Virginia Report, 24, 26, 27; Bishops in Communion (2000) [Church of England] 6.

55 Art 6.3. The latter part of this sentence is an innovation (but see WR, para 29).

56 Art 7.1. This reflects the models of bilateral communion with Canterbury (LC 1930, Res 49), multipartite communion ‘with all churches of the Anglican Communion’ (eg Korea, Constitution Fundamental Declaration), and communion with the community of churches (eg Hong Kong, Constitution Preamble: the province is ‘in communion with the Anglican Communion’).

57 Art 7.2. This surfaces in the constitutions of member churches.

58 Art 7.2. See also Art 8.3 below. This is a common feature of the perichoretic social doctrine of the Trinity as applied to human persons (eg Boff, L, Trinity and Society (London, 1988)) and is applied to churches: WR, paras 51, 84.

59 Art 7.3. For the notion of personal communion (such as between bishops), in addition to ecclesial communion, see eg Virginia Report, 29.

60 Art 7.4. See eg LC 1998, Res III.2(a). Remarkably, however, the Communion has not formally articulated its own strategic purposes: these ideas are, however, implicit in the commitments set out in PAC Part III, and they are commonly expressed as the purposes of individual churches: eg LC 1998, Res II.6(c), New Zealand, Constitution Preamble, Sudan, Declaration of Fundamental Principles, I; South East Asia, Constitution Preamble; North India, Constitution II.I.II.

61 Art 8.1. WAEEC, para 61. See also Art 8.2: Communion subsists in the mutual acknowledgement by churches of their common identity.

62 For interdependence, see Virginia Report. 24ff. This is also taken again from Trinitarian doctrine (the idea that the divine communion manifests itself ad extra) as applied to human persons: see eg Kasper, W, The God of Jesus Christ (1989), pp 289ff.

63 Art 9.1.

64 Art 9.2. LC 1978, Res 11: ‘The Conference advises member Churches not to take action regarding issues which are of concern to the whole Anglican Communion without consultation with' a Lambeth Conference or the Primates’ Meeting.

65 Art 10.1. See LC 1930, Res 49; WAEEC, para 35.

66 Art 10.1. See ARCIC, Church as Communion, IV. 45.

67 Art 10.2. See LC 1998, Res III.l(b).

68 Art 11.1. This surfaces in the laws of churches. See also LC 1888, Res 11; LC 1998, Res III.8(d).

69 Art 11.2,3. See Growth in Communion, para 45.

70 Art 12.1. See Ordinal (1662). This is common in the laws of churches: eg Korea, Fundamental Declarations.

71 Art 12.2. WAEEC, para 35; also a fundamental of full communion in ecumenical relations: see eg Growth in Communion para 117. Currently, such recognition is a matter for the member church unilaterally.

72 Art 12.3, 4. Introduction of formal duties to welcome and permit are new. The requirement of consents to minister is a standard feature of the laws of Anglican churches.

73 The following duties under Art 13 are new: Art 13.2: No minister, especially a bishop, shall: (a) act without due regard to or jeopardize the unity of the Communion; (b) neglect to co-operate with ministers, especially bishops, of member churches for the good of the Communion and Church universal; (c) unreasonably be the cause or focus of division and strife in their church or elsewhere in the Communion; (d) if in episcopal office, unreasonably refuse any invitation to attend meetings of the Instruments of Unity.

74 This formal statement is new in Anglicanism, but common in ecumenism (eg Porvoo Declaration); Growth in Communion, 45.

75 WAEEC, para 35.

76 Art 16.1. See ARCIC, Church as Communion, para 45.

77 Art 16.2. This is a fundamental principle of the canonical tradition.

78 Art 16.3. This is a current expectation: eg LC resolutions are ‘counsels’: LC 1930, Res 48.

79 Art 16.4. See n 5 above.

80 Art 17.1. This is new, but makes an important statement about the ecumenical intent of the Communion, though it reflects in spirit the duties which member churches have in their own laws to seek or restore visible unity with non-Anglican churches: see eg Jerusalem and the Middle East, Constitution Art 5(ii).

81 Art 17.1. This is declaratory of current canonical practice in member churches.

82 Art 17.2. This is new.

83 Art 18.6. There are limits on the exercise of autonomy imposed by the relationships of communion, the acknowledgement of common identity, the commitments of communion, and the principles applicable to the management of communion affairs.

84 Art 18.1. See LC 1930, Res 48; LC 1978, Res 21.3.

85 Art 18.2. See eg Oxford English Dictionary (2nd edn Oxford, 1989), ‘autonomy’.

86 Art 18.3. This is autonomy as understood by ecumenical partners:see eg Lutheran, : The Lutheran World Federation as a Communion (Geneva, 2003); Roman Catholic:Code of Canon Law (1983) Canon 586 (concerning religious institutes); Eastern Catholic: eg Motluk, D, ‘The code of canons of the Eastern Catholic Churches’, 36 Studia Canonica (2002) 189 at 196.

87 Art 18.4. See Virginia Report, Ch 4.

88 Art 18.5. Eg the Scottish Parliament cannot legislate on reserved matters, issues concerning the whole of the wider community of the United Kingdom, of which Scotland is part: United Kingdom matters are reserved to Westminster.

89 Art 19.1, 2. This surfaces in the laws of churches: eg North India, Constitution I.IV4: ‘an autonomous church and free from any control … external to itself’.

90 Art 19.2. This is a statement of current canonical practices across the Communion.

91 Art 19.3. This is an innovation, but probably an articulation of current canonical practice.

92 Art 20.1. See Virginia Report, 44; LC 1978, Res 21.3.

93 Art 20.2. See ACC-12, Res 34.2: ‘provincial authorities to have in mind the impact of their decisions within the wider Communion’.

94 Art 20.2.

95 Art 20.3. For the quod omnes tangit principle of the (conciliar) canonical tradition, see eg Congar, Y, ‘Quod omnes tangit ab omnibus tractari et approbari debet’, 36 Revue historique de droit français et étranger (1958) 210: its origin is a law of Justinian 531. See also Ten Principles of Partnership, Towards Dynamic Mission: Renewing the Church for Mission, Mission Issues and Strategy Advisory Group II (1993) Principle 8: ‘What touches one member touches all’. See too Roman Catholic Code of Canon Law (1983), Canon 119, 3: ‘what touches all as individuals must be approved by all’.

96 Art 21.1; WR, para 40. The fiduciary duty is derived from the canonical tradition of good faith.

97 Art 21.2. See ACC-12, Res 14.1: ‘dioceses and individual bishops not to take unilateral actions… which would strain our communion’.

98 Art 21.3; WR, paras 67–70.

99 Art 22.1; WR, paras 36–37, 83, 86, 89.

100 Art 22.3. This is a new formulation. See however the Vatican II document Sacrosanctum concilium (1963), and De ecclesia eucharistia (2003).

101 Art 22.3. See LC 1978, Res 1; LC 1878, Res 1; see also LC 1988, Res 72 which reaffirms ‘the historical position of respect for diocesan boundaries and the authority of bishops within’ them.

102 This is recommended by the WR: see Appendix I.

103 The Article repeats the current position, namely: ‘(1) The Instruments of Unity serve in communion to discern our common mind in communion issues, and foster our interdependence and mutual accountability, but exercise no jurisdiction over autonomous member churches save to the limited extent provided in this Covenant and the laws of member churches. (2) The Archbishop of Canterbury enjoys a primacy of honour and is a personal sign of our unity and communion, and shall be assisted by a Council of Advice. (3) The Lambeth Conference, under the presidency of the Archbishop of Canterbury, expressing episcopal collegiality worldwide, gathers for common counsel, consultation and encouragement and to provide direction to the whole Communion. (4) The Anglican Consultative Council has such membership and functions as are prescribed by its constitution. (5) The Primates’ Meeting, presided over by the Archbishop of Canterbury, assembles for mutual support and counsel, monitors global developments and exercises collegial responsibility in doctrinal, moral and pastoral matters’.

104 See LC 1998, Res III.6, for recommendations for an enhanced role for the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Primates' Meeting and the ACC in cases of exceptional emergency incapable of internal resolution in a province (exercised by way of guidance and in consultation).

105 If the matter were adiaphora (things which do not make a difference: WR, para 87) or one amenable to a process of reception (WR, paras 68–70), the local church remains free to act.

106 In matters of doctrine or liturgy: see eg Central Africa, Constitution Art V; Uganda, Constitution Art II; South East Asia, Constitution Fundamental Declarations, 4ff; Southern Africa, Canon 41.

107 Lutheran World Federation, Constitution, Art V.

108 The text discussed here, as it appears in Appendix II of the Report, is ‘a preliminary draft and discussion document, and at this stage it would be premature for any church to adopt it’: WR, para 118.

109 WR, para 118.

110 WR, para 118.

111 WR, para 119.

112 Adams, M, ‘How to quench the spirit’, Church Times, 29 10 2004, 9.

113 A Guide to the Windsor Report, commissioned by an International Gathering from around the Anglican Communion meeting at Oxford 19–21 October 2004, para 24 (and p 10).

114 Church Times, 22 10 2004, 10.

116 Primates' Meeting, Communiqué 24 February 2005, para 8

117 Ibid para 9. The draft Covenant very carefully preserves provincial autonomy to the greatest possible extent, and the jurisdiction contemplated in Art 26 is severely limited: see above (and n 105).

118 Primates' Meeting, Communiqué 24 February 2005, para 8.

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The Anglican Covenant Proposed by the Lambeth Commission

  • Norman Doe (a1)


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